Today Microsoft released a couple of major announcements regarding the restructuring of their entire business. The complete One Microsoft email from Steve Ballmer along with an internal memo entitled Transforming Our Company are available online at Microsoft’s news center, but what does it all really mean? That’s actually a bit difficult to say; clearly times are changing and Microsoft needs to adapt to the new environment, and if we remove all of the buzzwords and business talk, that’s basically what the memo and email are about. Microsoft calls their new strategy the “devices and services chapter” of their business, which gives a clear indication of where they’re heading.

We’ve seen some of this already over the past year or so, in particular the Microsoft Surface and Surface Pro devices are a departure from the way Microsoft has done things in the past – though of course we had other hardware releases like the Xbox, Xbox 360, Zune, etc. We’ve discussed this in some of our reviews as well, where the traditional PC markets are losing ground to smartphones, tablets, and other devices. When companies like Apple and Google are regularly updating their operating systems, in particular iOS and Android, the old model of rolling out a new Windows operating system every several years is no longer sufficient. Depending on other companies for the hardware that properly showcases your platform can also be problematic when one of the most successful companies of the last few years (Apple Computer) controls everything from the top to bottom on their devices.

There’s also the factor of cost; when companies are getting Android OS for free, minus the groundwork required to get it running on your platform, charging $50 or $100 for Windows can be a barrier to adoption. When Microsoft talks about a shift towards devices and services, they are looking for new ways to monetize their business structure. The subscription model for Office 365 is one example of this; rather than owning a copy of office that you can use on one system, you instead pay $100 for the right to use Office 365 on up to five systems for an entire year. This sort of model has worked well for the antivirus companies not to mention subscription gaming services like World of WarCraft, EverQuest, etc., so why not try it for Office? I have to wonder if household subscriptions to Windows are next on the auction block.

One of the other topics that Microsoft gets into with their memo is the need for a consistent user experience across all of the devices people use on a daily basis. Right now, it’s not uncommon for people to have a smartphone, tablet, laptop and/or desktop, a TV set-top box, and maybe even a gaming console or two – and depending on how you are set up, each of those might have a different OS and a different user interface. Some people might not mind switching between the various user interfaces, but this is definitely something that I’ve heard Apple users mention as a benefit: getting a consistent experience across your whole electronic ecosystem. Apple doesn’t get it right in every case either, but I know people that have MacBook laptops, iPads/iPods and iPhones, Apple TV, iTunes, and an AirPort Extreme router, and they are willing to pay more for what they perceive as a better and easier overall experience.

Windows 8 was a step towards that same sort of ecosystem, trying to unify the experience on desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets, and the Xbox One; some might call it a misstep, but regardless Microsoft is making the effort. “We will strive for a single experience for everything in a person’s life that matters. One experience, one company, one set of learnings, one set of apps, and one personal library of entertainment, photos and information everywhere. One store for everything.” It’s an ambitious goal, and that sort of approach definitely won’t appeal to everyone [thoughts of Big Brother…]; exactly how well Microsoft does in realizing this goal is going to determine how successful this initiative ends up being.

One of the other thoughts I’ve heard increasingly over the past year or two is that while competition is in theory good for the consumer, too much competition can simply result in confusion. The Android smartphone and tablet offerings are good example of this; which version of Android are you running, and which SoC powers your device? There are huge droves of people that couldn't care less about the answer to either question; they just want everything to work properly. I’ve heard some people jokingly (or perhaps not so jokingly) suggest that we would benefit if more than one of the current SoC companies simply “disappeared” – and we could say the same about some of the GPU and CPU vendors that make the cores that go into these SoCs. Again, Microsoft is in a position to help alleviate some of this confusion with their software and devices; whether they can manage to do this better than some of the others that have tried remains to be seen.

However you want to look at things, this is a pretty major attempt at changing the way Microsoft functions. Can actually pull this all off, or is it just so many words? Thankfully, most of us have the easy job of sitting on the sidelines and taking a “wait and see” approach. Steve Ballmer notes, “We have resolved many details of this org, but we still will have more work to do. Undoubtedly, as we involve more people there will be new issues and changes to our current thinking as well. Completing this process will take through the end of the calendar year as we figure things out and as we keep existing teams focused on current deliverables like Windows 8.1, Xbox One, Windows Phone, etc.”

Whatever happens to Microsoft over the coming year or two, these are exciting times for technology enthusiasts. Microsoft has been with us for 37 years now, and clearly they intend to stick around for the next 37 as well. Enjoy the ride!

Source: Microsoft News

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  • versesuvius - Friday, July 12, 2013 - link

    Am I wrong in thinking that all that Microsoft is talking about is a new user interface? Like create 3 new icons and a new swap method and they are good to go? Like Apple? The fact of the matter is that about half of the software industry, the money making part of it at least, is about doing just that. A new update for the OS every 2 months? That sucks. The "users" will always be upgrading and worrying the wits out of themselves over nothing, trying to get the latest upgrade and learn to use it to achieve the same result that they were getting before. Computers are there to simplify things not complicate them more for the net sum of nothing.
  • Nagorak - Friday, July 12, 2013 - link

    Since when are frequent updates a good thing? The fact that there are a billion android updates actually sucks. It means your device is almost immediately out of date, and then apps sometimes don't work if you have an older system version. Not to mention support for phones and tablets is regularly dropped only a year or two after release. Then you have to hope that some altruistic programmer(s) out there are making a hacked version for your device, which then may or may not work well.

    I'm sorry, but frequent updates to an OS is far from a good thing. It's one thing if it's bugs/security fixes, but wholesale changes to the OS just cause problems, and "confusion" as mentioned in the article.

    Secondly, $100 for a year of Microsoft Office is an absurd rip off. You'd be hard pressed to notice any real vital changes from the office version that came out 10 years ago. I would say that the first Office version that came out with Win95 is probably more than sufficient for most people, even most businesses. So, frequently, relatively pointless updates are in no way worth $100 per year. If Microsoft ever goes subscription only with Office, I see Open Office and every single other alternative getting a lot more business.
  • ATimson - Friday, July 19, 2013 - link

    I'd argue that the changes in Excel 2007 to allow more than 65,536 columns/rows was a "real vital change", at least at work. The built-in PDF generation starting with Office 2007 was nice too.

    2010/2013 didn't have anything particularly earthshattering, I'll admit, but I wouldn't want to go back to anything earlier than 2007. :)
  • lmcd - Monday, July 22, 2013 - link

    Personally I can't handle the 07 interface very long. I strongly prefer 10. I also always felt 10 was natural, while 07 was... fake. It looked shoddy and felt shoddy, even though it behaves almost identically to 10.

    13, I need some experience with before I can say, but 10 is my favorite yet.
  • critical_ - Friday, July 12, 2013 - link

    This may make sense to individuals that don't care about upgrading there main device mere seconds after an update is released but this is a nightmare for those in support. Rolling out updates is messy. Making sure every one of our applications and tools work with the next update takes time. Many business have only recently rolled out Windows 7. Windows 8 isn't even on the radar until all necessary validation is completed and re-training of end-users is taken into account BUT Microsoft is releasing Windows 8.1 rather soon. Guess what? Windows 8 will get skipped by many for this reason alone.

    Unfortunately, the gotta-have-it-now mentality is where we run into problems. How many of us had to deal with Apple's latest iOS that broke Microsoft Exchange? End-users complained but they had other ways to access their email and calendars. For those in support who already deal with the mess of BOYD (bring your own device), it was pure hell. Apple takes its sweet time (relative to the clock the support world works on) to put out fixes but we have to deal with it until the problem is fixed. Also, how many times have we dealt with Apple messing up time-changes and leap years? You'd think they'd get the problem fixed.

    I hate for this to turn into an anti-Apple rant but Microsoft needs to keep focusing on the business world. Windows is configurable enough that those of us who need to power can use the "raw" system but Microsoft can cater to various markets (a la Windows Server Standard vs Windows Home Server). Let's just hope they don't take away that power (boot-to-desktop removal in the preview vs. final Windows 8).

    Finally, software subscriptions are terrible. I understand that the model makes businesses happy but I like to "own" the software I use rather than have a certain amount of money deducted out of my checking account every month for the "privilege" of keeping a system running. I'm happy to pay for a subscription for services like road-side assistance, cell phone (although pay-as-you-go exists), etc. but software is not one of those things.
  • Grennum - Friday, July 12, 2013 - link

    I disagree about the rolling updates being messy. They require a different method of administration. For example our CAD software gets a major update yearly and at least 5 different service packs a year. This is a great model because no single yearly jump is a huge upgrade effort, things evolve very incrementally.

    Contrast this with our Dynamics AX upgrade scheme. That software is upgraded every 3-5 years, and each upgrade ends up being almost an entire new implementation. This is a terrible model to admin, maybe it is great if you like the set and forgot IT approach but that doesn't continually improve the value provided to your users.

    I like rolling updates, I hope Microsoft can execute them in a reasonable fashion so more companies can stay up to date.

    As for subscription, we already have an Enterprise Agreement with MS, as due many companies so the subscription idea is already here.
  • mrdude - Friday, July 12, 2013 - link

    The difference here is that it's a ploy to get your average consumer to adopt to that same model, and that's a far riskier proposition. The enterprise has a long history of subscriptions, but is Joe Average going to buy into that?

    Rolling updates certainly do help, but they have to provide incentive to buy into that subscription model. I use AutoCAD for work, and although the program has evolved tremendously over the past decade, for my line of work most of those updates have added nothing but an additional sub-menu to sift through and ignore. For most people, the only changes they've seen in Office in the past decade are the minor face lifts, and I'm not sure jumping to a subscription model is going to make upgrading any more attractive. If it can open .docx, it's probably good enough

    I'd like to see MS release devices, applications and features that aren't found on other competing devices and OSes/app stores. Rather than "we can do tablets too!" they should be pushing and developing technologies that others lack and truly could revolutionize how people interact with their devices; Kinect is a perfect example of MS sitting on a gold mine and not doing much with it.
  • Beenthere - Friday, July 12, 2013 - link

    By 2015 Microsucks may be nothing more than a dirty bootnote in the annals of PC history - at least we can hope so.
  • Oscarcharliezulu - Friday, July 12, 2013 - link

    "Apple doesn’t get it right in every case either, but I know people that have MacBook laptops, iPads/iPods and iPhones, Apple TV, iTunes, and an AirPort Extreme router, and they are willing to pay more for what they perceive as a better and easier overall experience."

    I'm perceiving it being easier, every day. It does work well and is easy and I haven't found it significantly more expensive.
  • mrdude - Friday, July 12, 2013 - link

    I'm not sure how a game of musical chairs is going to help them adapt to the current landscape and pave a brighter future for MS.

    I've read parts of the memo, and it reads more like a motivational speech rather than a "we're going to do things differently now" agenda. The move towards subscription-based models is a smart idea, but only if you can make it work and provide incentive to the user. Mirroring the Adobe trainwreck isn't a good business model and requires a lot of care to not piss off your consumers. Given MS's recent moves, though, I somehow doubt they really care about consumers in the first place :P

    What worries me most, though, is that Windows is their bread and butter. If MS is looking to adopt the 'devices and services' model, then they really need to get over that '$$$ for Windows' roadblock. Charging OEMs $30-$100 for a Windows license on a device that costs $200 isn't going to cut it, and when you can't sell your devices at the high margin end of the market, it gets even worse - check out the fire sale on Win RT tablets. On one hand, they've introduced Bing-sponsored ads into the OS itself, which can be seen as a move toward making Windows free and making up that licensing $$$ elsewhere (ads within the OS), but they're still charging an arm and a leg in a market that runs on razor thin margins and high volume, cheaper (relatively speaking) tablets.

    One MS with a single agenda sounds all fine and dandy, but if the accountants have the final say - ads in 8.1, XBox One debacle, overpriced tablets - then it's never going to work.

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